I've decided to interview Erika after reading her unique epic fantasy Merchants of Knowledge and Magic. We've also been Twitter friends for some time, and I'd been fascinated with her world-building long before I got a chance to dive into the book. Still, I wanted to read it before interviewing Erika to get an even better feel of what this magical and complex world is all about.
Hi and welcome! Could you please introduce yourself?
Heya, I’m Erika McCorkle, or Kira of the Wind on my various social media accounts. I go by both Erika and Kira. I’m writing books in my fantasy world, the Pentagonal Dominion, and just published my debut novel, Merchants of Knowledge and Magic.
Your novel is filled with fascinating, well-developed and unique characters. Every single one felt real to me! Do you have a particular process for character development? What are some of the most important things when you create a character?
Because I’ve already built the world, part of my process involves making the characters fit in their society. Or, if they don’t fit in, figure out why. I figure out their species, culture, and element first, which will inform how they were raised. Then I design core components of their personality and history, things that happened in the past that shaped who they are in the present. I then consider how that personality will play out in the novel. What kinds of problems will they cause? How will they go about solving issues? Then I just let them live in my head for a few months and see what they do. Sometimes as I’m daydreaming about them, things will materialize that I hadn’t expected, and which I could not have brute-forced by sticking to an outline.
I love your process! Do you have a personal favorite?
If you mean specifically in MoKaM, it’s probably Williford. I had a mad crush on him while I was writing the early-mid chapters where he appears. However, my ultimate love is always for Lucognidus, the God who Calinthe worships (honestly, I kinda worship him, too). He’s mentioned plenty of times in MoKaM, but I wouldn’t necessarily call him a character in that book since he never appears. I’ve written him in other books and side stories, though, and have fantasized about him for over a decade. My love for him knows no limits.
I loved Williford too, and I can't wait to meet Lucognidus in your future books. Kamiko was a wonderful villain — and by that I mean she was an awful person. I hated her! How did she come to be and how do you feel about her?
Kamiko is just a product of her environment. Many Ophidian women would be just like her, though perhaps not as capable due to their lack of money, guns, or magic. I actually created a character who I like to call ‘proto-Kamiko’ about a decade ago. She appeared briefly in a scene I was writing from the PoV of Sayuri’s aunt, Shiyomi Ryuugashuyuu. In that scene, I had a young woman who was the head of House Higangaoka. I described her with specific physical traits hinting that she’d been in a terrible accident. When I decided to write MoKaM, I remembered this one-off character and decided to tell the story of how her ‘accident’ came to be. Of course, it’s all spoilers for MoKaM, so I shan’t tell you about it here!
As for how I feel about her? While it’s true Kamiko is awful, she fulfils a certain need of mine. A craving. A kink. Let’s just say I fantasize about her a lot.
I think I know what accident you're talking about, and even though I hate Kamiko, I can imagine a certain kinky perspective on her. Let's leave it for the readers to discover on their own and move on to the world-building. It's so deep and unique! You’ve managed to create an intricate, vibrant world unlike any other. What are some of the most important things for you when creating a world?
The most important thing for me is to think of everything. Many authors are okay with leaving things out or just letting readers assume, and that’s okay, but it’s not for me. I need to know every single thing about my world, and how those things interact. When I build something such as a city, I need to know what kind of people live there, the architecture, cultural customs, which Gods are primarily worshipped in the area, monuments, how local flora and fauna influence their diets/clothes/medicine, what they trade to other cities, what routes are used for trade (which in my world includes portals), how geography and magical phenomena affect their lives, etc. For any given location in the PD [Pentagonal Dominion], I must be able to track the daily life of a person living there.
I know you’ve been working on this world since you were little. Can you tell me a bit about how it was maturing and developing? How did you know it was time to publish?
It was a slow, gradual development over the last two decades. It started off as a Pokemon knock-off. The species were Pokemon, the locations were inspired by towns in the Pokemon games, and the element systems was based on Pokemon’s typing system. As I consumed more media, particularly video games and anime, I added or changed more things to implement new inspirations. Early PD also had a lot of aspects reminiscent of anime like Digimon, Monster Rancher, Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, and video games like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Grandia, Lunar, and Skies of Arcadia. I was also inspired in many ways by real life. Whenever I’d learn something in history or science, I would look for ways to implement it in my books. As I grew up and started consuming more ‘adult’ media, the world matured with me. A lot of the ‘cutesy’ stuff went away, replaced with darker, more fucked-up versions of what they used to be.
I knew I was ready to publish when I reached a point where I was no longer embarrassed by stuff I wrote a year prior. Until recently, any time I reread something, I would think it was awful crap that didn’t deserve to be in a published book. When I went back to something written a year before and thought “this is actually good”, I knew my time had come.
I’ve read many sci-fi and fantasy books, and yours is among the most original ones! Do you have any advice for other authors when it comes to creating unique worlds?
Don’t just take inspiration and then copy-paste it into your world. Make it something uniquely yours. Think about it in-depth. Fantasize about it in your head. Play around with two or three different aspects of your world at once, to see what they do when they interact. Like, if you created a plant for your fantasy world, see what happens when animals eat it, or if people use it for medicine, clothes, furniture, what-have-you.
Also, don’t feel like you have to play by societal rules. So many authors feel like their words need things like gods, currency, wedding customs, gender roles, Terran weather patterns, etc. Realize that things which are societal can be changed (or completely done away with) in a fantasy society, and things which are specific to Earth can be changed for your fantasy world. If there’s magic in your world, consider how that affects things, too.
The story takes a dark turn closer to the end. What was your motivation to explore those themes? Were any of the scenes difficult to write?
My motivation to write the dark scenes at the end of MoKaM was because tame, boring stories don’t interest me. I created Ophidia ages ago, and if I was going to write a book where Ophidia exists, my readers would expect me to explore it in-depth. Ignoring it would have just been cowardly. So I knew right away that my debut novel had to involve Ophidians. My philosophy then was basically “go big or go home.” Either write about the cruelest, sickest Ophidian ladies, or don’t bother. I have to get peoples’ attention with this book or else they won’t bother reading the dozens of other books I plan to write in the future.
As for me, the scenes were not difficult to write. Actually, many of them turned me on. Like I mentioned when you asked about Kamiko, I have certain kinks. I created Ophidia back when I was exploring my sexuality as a means to play with that side of myself.
It must have been fun then! Merchants of Knowledge and Magic is the first book in a series that will explore various planes of the Pentagonal Dominion — correct me if there is a better way to describe it. I know you’re already working on the second book. What can readers expect from it?
I think the best way to describe it would be “various books that explore different time periods and locations in the Pentagonal Dominion.” MoKaM already explores four of the planes, whereas MoLaB (Merchants of Light and Bone, the novel I’m currently working on) takes place almost exclusively on the Aloutian Plane.
MoLaB is a very different kind of fantasy novel. For one, it takes place in a tropical setting. For another, the main character isn’t anyone special. Just a regular citizen of Aloutia, a man with seven kids and two spouses, who works a day job and has no concerns in his day-to-day life other than wondering what he’ll cook for dinner. At least, until the novel starts, a day after one of his daughters dies in a freak accident. The first half of the book explores the family’s grief, as well as their fear for another girl in the village who they suspect is being abused by her father. The second half of the novel takes a different turn with events that occur as a result of the family’s actions in the first half. It’s got a lot of action, drama, and trauma, but also some adorable, heart-warming moments. Altogether, MoLaB is a story about family. Not the best family, but not the worst, either. While MoKaM’s dark themes focus on sexual abuse, MoLaB’s dark themes are more centered around child abuse. It’s definitely not a book for everyone.
I see that you like exploring dark and difficult subjects. You've already mentioned that tame, boring stories don't interest you. Is there a reason why you decided to focus on child abuse in particular?
With MoLaB, it wasn't exactly that I set out to write a story with child abuse as its dark theme, but it happened naturally. I wanted to write a story about a man who lost his daughter in a tragic accident. He's very attuned to the needs of children and he's in a mental space where he cannot bear to see children suffer needlessly. The MC has intrusive thoughts, and will 'replay' horrifying imagery in his head of his own children in pain. Since most of my future books won't have MCs with kids, this is a rare chance I have to write about 'parental horror.'
I know you’re planning many more books in The Pentagonal Dominion. It’s an exciting place, and there are so many things to explore that I can’t wait to read them all! Are you planning to write any books in other worlds? If you were to create a new world from scratch, how would you go about it?
No, I have no plans to do that. It would just be a waste of time for me. I’ve already got this whole big-ass world developed, I don’t see any point in creating a different world when I already have so much to do. More than I can possibly write in my lifetime. If humans had longer life spans, I might think about writing another world later, but right now, it’s unfeasible.
If I were to create a new world from scratch, I’d first think about the very different things I’d want. Perhaps a world without gods, without currency, without humans, in a ‘world’ that isn’t a spherical planet. Then I’d go from there, seeing what evolves naturally out of my brain.
What do you look for in books as a reader?
Since I read predominantly fantasy, I look for aspects of that genre I enjoy. This means a lot of in-depth worldbuilding, consistent worldbuilding, characters who interact with their world in meaningful ways, and characters I enjoy. To clarify that last point, I can enjoy characters regardless of whether they’re good, evil, or something in between. There are no traits in particular I can point to and say “that’s what an enjoyable character is like” since I enjoy characters with a variety of features. In addition, a character with one trait might amuse me while a character with the same trait in a different story might infuriate me. I sorta just go with what my heart wants, regardless of the logic.
What are some of your favorite books and / or authors?
Some of my favorite books would be The Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe, The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson, The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, and (if it counts), the Japanese visual novel Umineko no Naku Koro ni by Ryukishi07.
If you could visit a world described in one of the books you’ve read, which one would you choose and why?
Frankly, most of the books I have read take place in worlds that are ravaged with terrible things: war, plague, corrupt politics, demons, you name it. I feel like the safest option would be one of those cozy fantasy novels that have become popular lately, but that’s not a genre I read.
Oh well, you always have your own world to escape to ;) I know you love video games. What are some of your favorite ones?
Yep, I do love video games! Most of my entertainment comes from them, and most of the stories I’ve consumed are from video games rather than books. I play a lot of RPGs, strategy games, grand strategy, and visual novels. Some of my favorites include Dominions 5, Disgaea, Grandia, Lunar, Skies of Arcadia, Final Fantasy VI, Dragon Quest V, Crusader Kings II, Civilization VI, Mount and Blade (I still need to play Bannerlord!), Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion... I could honestly list games for ages!
What else do you do for fun?
It’s just writing, video games, and anime these days. I’ve never been an outdoors person, and I get frustrated at other creative hobbies when I don’t feel like I’m any good at them. I do listen to a lot of podcasts and documentaries about history and mythology, but I tend to do that while I’m at work, so I’m not sure if that counts as being something I do ‘for fun.’ It’s more like ‘making a boring job more entertaining.’
What are some of the most important things for you in life?
In a broad sense, I just don’t care about this life, Earth, or humanity. I just want to write my books, fantasize about my world, enjoy the company of people who also want to experience my world, and then leave before the planet becomes uninhabitable.
If there is anything else you’d like to add, please do!
I don’t have anything else to say, really. This was a neat, extensive interview! I love when the questions are deep and personal.
I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for the interview! <3
Thank you for asking these cool questions, Alina! <3
Featured image by Bear Pettigrew.